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Dozens take part in Walk to School Day
Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy students and parents walk along Enota Avenue as they participate in the International Walk to School Day Wednesday morning. - photo by Tom Reed

Dozens of Gainesville parents, children and educators ditched buses, cars and other vehicles Wednesday and took to the streets.

"It's a great walk," parent Mandy Clark said of the route to Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy. "It's long enough to get the blood pumping but not so long that the kids complain."

The event was part of International Walk to School Day, which includes about 40 countries. Across the state, more than 100 elementary and middle schools held organized walks.

In the morning hours, a half-mile procession began from the Gainesville Elks Lodge to Enota. Walkers from Green's Grocery also merged with the group.

The police blocked one lane of traffic on Riverside Drive, as a record number of families hoofed it to school.

Parent Cindy Bryant, who helped organize the walk six years ago, said the day is aimed at giving children safer routes to school and educating motorists about safety.

The day is also designed to get children active.

"For a lot of people, this is the only day their children walk to school. I think this will inspire them to walk other places in the community," said Gainesville Mayor Ruth Bruner, who joined Wednesday's walk.

Heather Marshall, who brought her children Anna Grace, Avery and Max, said she wanted to show her kids that exercise is essential, even at a young age.

"I wish we lived closer. I would walk every day," she said.

Recent studies have shown trends in getting to school have shifted, according to the National Center for Safer Routes to School. In 2009, about 13 percent of children walked or biked to school compared to 48 percent in 1969. Today, about 44 percent of kids are driven to school, compared to 12 percent in 1969.

Enota teacher Carolyn Mahar said while the area surrounding Enota has become more walkable, she believes sidewalks are a needed addition.

"I think it would encourage more children to walk to school," Mahar said.

Bruner said in the past several years, the Gainesville City Council has launched projects to add speed bumps and a bike lane to Riverside Drive, which borders Enota Academy. But plans for sidewalk projects around the city have been stalled because of the slow economy.

"We create sidewalks when we can, but it's a matter of finances," Bruner said.

At Wednesday's walk, the group stayed close to the bike lanes. After they arrived at the school, families were fed a nutritious breakfast, which included whole grain cereal and fruit.

Clark, who walks everyday with her children, said having a shared activity can be motivating for young people.

"I think it's important for parents to lead by example," she said.

Bruner said the City Council has looked at plans to increase safety citywide, with a network of sidewalks connecting schools, neighborhoods and shopping areas. It is currently on hold until funding becomes available.


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